Earlier in the day Wednesday, an Afghan driver somehow caught ablaze after he crashed a stolen truck at Camp Bastion — a British air field — in Afghanistan just as U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s plane was landing nearby.
No one in Panetta’s party was hurt, but the bizarre incident has prompted some nervous reactions — namely, Marines and other troops gathered in a tent at Camp Leatherneck to hear Panetta speak, were abruptly asked to disarm.
The NY Times explains:
In a sign of the nervousness surrounding the visit, Marines and other troops among the 200 people gathered in a tent at Camp Leatherneck to hear Mr. Panetta speak were abruptly asked by their commander to get up, place their weapons — M-16 and M-4 automatic rifles and 9-mm pistols — outside the tent and then return unarmed. The commander, Sgt. Maj. Brandon Hall, told reporters he was acting on orders from superiors.
“All I know is, I was told to get the weapons out,” he said. Asked why, he replied, “Somebody got itchy, that’s all I’ve got to say. Somebody got itchy; we just adjust.”
Typically, American forces in Afghanistan keep their weapons with them when the defense secretary visits. The Times adds context:
Later, American officials said that the top commander in Helmand, Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus, had decided on Tuesday that no one would be armed while Mr. Panetta spoke to them, but the word did not reach those in charge in the tent until shortly before Mr. Panetta was due to arrive.
General Gurganus told reporters later that he wanted a consistent policy for everyone in the tent. “You’ve got one of the most important people in the world in the room,” he said. He insisted that his decision had nothing to do with the shooting on Sunday. “This is not a big deal,” he said.
In his remarks to the group, Panetta said, “We will be challenged by our enemies, we will be challenged by ourselves, we will be challenged by the hell of war itself.”